Italian composer Ennio Morricone dies aged 91

6 July 2020, 09:18

Ennio Morricone has died aged 91
Ennio Morricone has died aged 91. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Italian composer Ennio Morricone, who wrote the iconic film score for The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, has died aged 91.

His lawyer Giorgio Assumma said the Maestro, as he was known, died in a Rome hospital early on Monday of complications following a leg-break from a fall.

Morricone's career spanned decades and saw him collaborate with some of the most renowned directors in the world, including Italian film-maker Sergio Leone.

He won a lifetime achievement Oscar at the 2007 Academy Awards, before taking the best original score award for Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight in 2016.

His work can be heard in Brian de Palma's The Untouchables, The Battle Of Algiers by Gillo Pontecorvo, John Carpenter's The Thing and Roland Joffe's The Mission.

Morricone's scores spanned decades and are among some of the most iconic in film history
Morricone's scores spanned decades and are among some of the most iconic in film history. Picture: PA

However, it is his work with Leone - who was a school-mate of Morricone's - that is the most instantly recognisable, with the main theme to The Good, The Bad And The Ugly among one of the most famous and iconic scores in film history.

The Dollars trilogy of so-called Spaghetti Westerns from the 1960s were massively influential and made Clint Eastwood an international movie star.

A Fistful Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly centred around Eastwood's tight-lipped gunslinger character, known as "The Man With No Name".

In total, Morricone produced more than 400 original scores for feature films.

Other movies scored by the Maestro include 1994's Disclosure and Wolf, 1993's In The Line Of Fire, and Mission To Mars of 2000.

Among the Tarantino films Morricone was involved in were the Kill Bill series, Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained.

Morricone was known for crafting just a few notes, like those played on a harmonica in Leone's Once Upon A Time in America, which would be instantly associated with that film.

In 1984, Morricone and Leone worked together again on Once Upon A Time In America, a saga of Jewish gangsters in New York that explores themes of friendship, lost love and the passing of time.

The movie starring Robert De Niro and James Woods is considered by some to be Leone's masterpiece, thanks in part to Morricone's evocative score, including a lush section played on violins.

"Inspiration does not exist," Morricone said in a 2004 interview with The Associated Press.

"What exists is an idea, a minimal idea that the composer develops at the desk, and that small idea becomes something important."

In a later interview with Italian state TV, Morricone cited "study, discipline and curiosity" as the keys to his creative genius.

More recently, Morricone provided the score for The Hateful Eight, Tarantino's 2015 epic. It marked the first time in decades that he had composed new music for a Western.

It was also the first time Tarantino had used an original score. In accepting Morricone's Golden Globe award for the music in his place, Tarantino called him his favourite composer.

"When I say 'favourite composer', I don't mean movie composer. ... I'm talking about Mozart, I'm talking about Beethoven, I'm talking about Schubert," the director said.

Minutes before handing Morricone the Oscar for lifetime achievement in 2007, Eastwood recalled hearing for the first time the score for A Fistful Of Dollars, and thinking: "What actor wouldn't want to ride into town with that kind of music playing behind him?"

Born in Rome on 10 November 1928, Morricone was the oldest of the five children. His father was a trumpet player.

After studying trumpet and composition at the Conservatory of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in the Italian capital, he started working as a trumpet player and then as an arranger for record companies.

In 1961, he wrote his first score for a movie, a bittersweet comedy set in the final moments of Fascism called Il Federale (known in English as The Fascist).

That decade also saw Morricone cooperate with Gillo Pontecorvo, first on The Battle Of Algiers, the black-and-white classic depicting the Algerian uprising against the French, and later on Queimada, a tale of colonialism starring Marlon Brando.

Morricone received his first Oscar nomination for best original score for his work on Terence Malick's 1978 movie Days Of Heaven.

Beside The Hateful Eight, his other Oscar nominations were for The Mission (1986), The Untouchables (1987), Bugsy (1991) and Malena (2000).

Shortly before receiving his lifetime Oscar, Morricone joked that he would have been happy without the coveted statuette, saying: "I would have remained in the company of illustrious non-winners."

But he also made no secret that he thought The Mission, with its memorably sweet theme of Gabriel's Oboe, deserved the Academy Award. That year, he lost to Herbie Hancock's Round Midnight.

When he finally won the Academy Award for best original score for The Hateful Eight in 2016, he said: "There is no great music without a great film that inspires it."

Asked by Italian state TV a few years ago if there was one director he would have liked to have worked with, Morricone said Stanley Kubrick had asked him to work on A Clockwork Orange.

But that collaboration did not happen because of a commitment to Leone, Morricone recalled.